The Sunshine State is home to more courses than any other state in the nation, so it’s not surprising that a few quality tracks have yet to register a blip on your radar, even if you are a well-traveled golfer. If you’re looking for a terrific layout — without the spring crowds — here are Florida’s four best public-access courses that have managed to remain hidden gems.
Shark’s Tooth Golf Club
Lake Powell, Fla.
7,204 yds, par 72
This outstanding Greg Norman design is now part of the golf collection at WaterColor Inn & Resort in the Panhandle. Outside play is limited to hotel guests, but it’s well worth the tariff to play here. The second nine has a few stunning holes, like the par-5 13th and par-3 14th, which feature Lake Powell lurking on the right side. Fairways flow straight into the low profile greens while the forced carries over wetlands add beauty and menace. Shark’s Tooth may just be the best public-access course you’ve never heard of.
Following a renovation by Bobby Weed, Deltona reopened in 2008 and is now one of the best values in the entire state. Located between Orlando and Daytona Beach, the course is distinguished by atypically rolling terrain interrupted by sprawling splashes of sand. These are technically not bunkers (you can ground your club in them), but they’re still not the place to be if you want to play to your handicap.
You can almost smell the old money in this legendary resort between Sarasota and Fort Myers. Pete Dye redid the course a few years ago, and while not completely defanged, it is a gentler effort than most of the fearsome Dye products you’ve seen over the years. The 6,942-yard layout has vexing green complexes and beautiful views across Charlotte Bay. You must be a hotel guest to play, but on the plus side there are no tee times at the course — there just isn’t enough traffic to warrant it.
Perhaps Florida’s ultimate hidden gem — and almost certainly its best bargain — is this surprisingly hilly track located between Gainesville and Orlando. Rees Jones renovated the 45-year-old Golden Hills course — which is scheduled to host the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur — in 2004, and he cites the “phenomenal topography and tremendous routing” as two of its strongest attributes. You’ll need the punching power of founding member Rocky Marciano to conquer the 450-yard, par-4 18th, which darts among oaks and bunkers. The public can play here after noon, and the ridiculously low green fee includes a cart and a new sleeve of balls.